Growing fruit trees in the backyard

Are you interested in having a backyard orchard? If you plan properly, you can grow high quality fruit.

The pleasure of picking and eating tree-ripened fruit from your own backyard is rare indeed for most people, but it is quite possible with some work and determination. After seeing the beautiful pictures and reading delicious descriptions in gardening catalogs, or seeing all the new and promising trees at the local nurseries, many times gardeners will purchase and plant a few trees with good intentions. When they discover the discipline required for growing high quality fruit, the project is soon abandoned to become a deer feeding station. Before embarking on your journey to grow your own apples, peaches, pears and cherries, or the many other available fruits, here are a few things to consider.

Site assessment

The first thing that needs to be done is to assess your property to determine if it is suitable for growing fruit trees. The soils must be well-drained (no standing water at any time of the year), have a slightly acidic pH (this can be determined by a soil test), at least eight or more hours of direct or full sunlight, a source of water, and enough space for the trees to grow, which will depend on their mature size.

Size matters

My first recommendation is to select dwarf trees as much as possible. The ultimate size of the tree is determined by the rootstock (almost all fruit trees are grafted) and to a lesser extent the scion or cultivar that is grafted onto the rootstock. Smaller trees are easier to prune. The crop will be closer to the ground which decreases the need for ladders. They are easier to spray and require significantly less space. Trees are sold as standard, semi-dwarf and dwarf.

If you hope to produce attractive fruit, the trees will need to be pruned annually and sprayed at the proper time for various pests during the growing season. This will take dedication, especially during the hot days of summer. Believe me – I know. Not pruning properly and missing sprays, especially if you are trying to grow fruit organically, will result in less desirable and possibly unusable fruit.

Your rewards

In Michigan, the harvest season will begin in July for cherries and ends in late October for apples. Depending on what is grown, picking and processing by freezing and canning will take up quite a bit of your time. It’s a great time to invite family and friends to help bring in the harvest and preserve the fruits of your labor. You will probably have more than you can use anyway. Unless you are growing larger quantities, you may not necessarily save a lot of money, but at least you can have greater control over what has been applied or added to your food during the growing and preservation processes.

One thing is for sure. Once you have mastered how to produce high quality, home grown and fully ripened fruit, you will likely turn up your nose to some of the offerings at the local supermarket.

Related article: Ordering fruit plants,” Gary L. Heilig, Michigan State University Extension

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